Skip to main content

tv   Lectures in History  CSPAN  September 2, 2016 6:21pm-7:35pm EDT

6:21 pm
if the roads were passable, yes, you would have delicious country butter or fresh poultry or eggs or some other commodity from rural lying areas. so with that in mind, i think it is quite obvious that we needed a better mouse trap. yes, during this time period which i called the twilight era of american steam railroads there were efforts to add additional miles of line. so there would be these branch lines and independent short lines that were built. but needless to say there were areas that simply needed something more than a branch line or short line passenger and freight train. so considering the condition of the roads, this is one reason
6:22 pm
why we have this new perhaps replacement technology. so you may ask what is an interurban. now, i know that you all took baby latin in high school, so interurban, between cities. that's the kind of latin i actually remember from the early 1960s. so perhaps it's time for me to just give you some visual images of an interurban. this is a brochure, as you can tell, 1907, that was sold to travelers in the greater new england area. and this is going to be the heartland of what we call rural
6:23 pm
trolleys, and rural trolleys are simply street car companies that have extended their lines out into the suburb's nearby villages or perhaps to an amusement park or to a cemetery, whatever. but this is the kind of early interurban car that was so ubiquitous. a summer car, looks like fun. you have those sweet summer breezes, and it is a way certainly to see the landscape. so this is the first type of interurban car. and note that it has an overhead, a pole that connects the traction motors with the power source. and there would be literally hundreds of miles of these rural
6:24 pm
trolleys constructed mostly in new england, but also scattered throughout the country. this is a view taken in april of 1925, when supposedly the good roads movement was moving at a rapid pace. here we have a car that resembles a rural trolley on the key wan knee and illinois railway. but here is a sense of a typical country road. as they said, in the 19th century, and apparently into the 20th century, choose your rut and stay with it. so, yes, i think we would all agree that taking this interurban car, because it did connect to cities that were roughly a dozen miles apart.
6:25 pm
so what we are seeing then is that we start out small. perhaps not all that different from an animal car, a street car before the age of electricity. but it is electrified, does have that overhead, that copper wire, and it is in some ways modern. but here is the quintessential interurban car, one that dates from about 1907. it is on an iowa interurban, the clinton and muskitine railway and we have the motorman. he certainly is well dressed, and we have the various passengers gazing out the window and the conductor who is there guarding the rear.
6:26 pm
so what we have is really a large railroad car, if you will, that simply is self-propelled. not all that different from some of those gas electric cars that were being introduced about the same time, and then later we have what were called rail diesel cars that were more modern and more sophisticated. so if you have been to new orleans and rode on the st. charles street car line, you can -- or even in charlotte with its recent light rail system, you can see similarities. now, the power today might come from a third rail but most of the railroads that were electrified, interurbans, took their juice from the overheads. sew so yes, here we have a nicely ballasted track so you
6:27 pm
can go along the shores, if you want to call them shores of the mississippi river between clinton, davenport an muskatine. here is another typical interurban car, comes from southern ohio. from the cincinnati, georgetown and plats or the portsmouth railway. here is a wonderful example where the promoters were hoping to get to portsmouth, but didn't get much further than georgetown, which is immediately east of the queen city cincinnati. incidentally, this railroad was originally built as a narrow gauge steam railroad, but would then be standardized and converted to electricity. and there were some examples of that. so here is a somewhat smaller
6:28 pm
car, dating also from about 1910 or there bes. and here we have one more interurban car, and note that we are operating in multiple sections. this is on the piedmont and northern railway, taken not too far outside of greenville, and this electric interurban built by the duke power interests, actually the duke cigarette interests, tobacco interests, was one of the most profitable of all interurban railroads, largely because it developed a substantial carload freight business. cars could be interchanged with
6:29 pm
the southern railway and georgian florida railroad and so on and so forth. this is a special excursion if you're a rail fan you would notice this immediately. a white flag signifying an extra train. it is not a scheduled train. and apparently, we have school children on an outing. now, the piedmont and northernable somewhat different than other interurbans. as i said, it made money. many of them did not. but we are in a state where yim crow l jim crow laws are being enforced. so there would be a special section for african-americans, a colored section as it was called. and the railroad actually would operate various colored only excursions, often to baseball games that were held in anderson or perhaps greenville or even greenwood. this railroad, too, was built in sections. it was never connected. there was a north carolina
6:30 pm
division from charlotte to gastonia and then as i said, we had the south carolina operation from spartanburg to greenville with a branch neurology anderson and then down to greenwood. so here we have again somewhat later this is a train about the time of the first world war. this railroad, incidentally, wasn't built until 1912 to 1913, really at the end of the construction period. and it would last for many years, and we'll talk later about the twilight of the trolley. so a good working definition of an interurban is probably appropriate at this time. early in the century, a new york investment banker came up with what i consider to be the best definition.
6:31 pm
he said that a bona fide interurban was one that was more than 15 miles in length. in other words, distinguishing it from a rural trolley, which has at least two-thirds of its track outside the municipal limits. and operates cars at a maximum speed of not less than 20 miles an hour. so in other words, we're talking about an interurban that is longer than 15 miles, two-thirds of its track is outside of corporate limits, and it has got to be able to operate at 20 miles an hour or faster. now, the federal government, bless its heart, never could come up with a real definition. for a while, the department of commerce and labor that was before the two departments would
6:32 pm
be separated early in the century, suggested that any electric line that operated between two municipalities was an interurban. but then there was a realization that we have essentially suburban street car lines and that didn't really fit. so what the government did, just love this, the government said, look, when we send out this questionnaire about whether you're a trolley company, or an interurban, it is up to you to decide. we'll make you the ultimate judge of what you happen to be. so for most of the history of the interurbans, it was up to an individual corporate entity. now, let me explain the technology, and even though i wrote a book on railroad technology, i'm not that skilled
6:33 pm
in explaining interurban technology. as you saw on those images that the earliest interurban cars really were just somewhat larger animal cars or perhaps small city street cars, in fact, most of them were relatively small, and it would be operated -- by the motor man, who we would call on a steam railroad the engineer. and you would likely have a conductor. so you're talking about a two-person crew. the power comes almost always from the overhead line. some interurbans experimented with third rail. but there's always that danger. it was a problem in the state of washington where livestock or at least small live stock, i guess chickens are live stock, sort
6:34 pm
of, although you can't herd chickens and children were shocked, in the case of animals actually killed, more likely dogs than anything else. and so there was a lot of concern about third rail. perhaps you've been in new york city, in the subway, and you don't want to touch the third rail. it's not a good idea. unless you're planning suicide. originally and for much of the history of the interurbans, we find the use of direct current, dc. general electric is the innovator here. and a number of these interurbans like the ones that i showed you, with the exception of the piedmont and northern, use 600 to 1200 volt dc. then the westinghouse electric and manufacturing company, the competitor to general electric, early in the 20th century introduced alternating current,
6:35 pm
ac. and this might be 6,600 volts, 25-cycle power. and westinghouse engineers argued, of course, they're trying to sell this to var various interurban promoters, that you didn't have line drop like you did with dc current. when you used dc, you had to use a number of substations that added more juice to the current. also, westinghouse suggested that less copper wire was needed, or at least less quality copper wire was required. but there were limitations. and the limitations involved the fact that ac operated interurban cars had to be heavier.
6:36 pm
there were issues with the motors. they had to be perhaps more durable. also, you had to use more expensive copper wire. and so the bottom line was that maintenance costs generally were higher with ac. and there was another issue. cars using ac could not accelerate as fast as those that used dc. so there is this conflict. and there were municipalities that said, we don't want those high voltage ac lines in our street, so they would have to then convert to dc when they had street runnings through a municipality. these interurbans tended to go into the heart of communities. so if we look at the history of interurbans and we're interested in electricity, we would say
6:37 pm
that a majority, perhaps 70 to 75%, used direct current. well, when we look at the beginnings of electric-powered transportation, we see that there were these tinkerers who realized that electricity was a kind of magical power, and there were a variety of efforts to put it to use on track vehicles using flanged wheels. there's no single inventor, just as there's no single inventor of the automobile. certainly one individual who gets high praise is frank julian sprague. sprague was a graduate of the united states naval academy. and after he completed his mandatory tour of duty, he went
6:38 pm
to work for thomas edison, mr. light bulb. and while working with edison, he became fascinated with the possible application of electricity to transportation. he then left in the early 1880s the edison company, and created his own manufacturing concern that focused on building what we would call electric trollies. there were some dead ends. but in 1887 and 1888, sprague was successful in honoring a contract that he signed with private investors in richmond, virginia, to electrify the richmond union passenger railway. and what he did was to electrify the existing dozen or so miles
6:39 pm
of and cal car line in that virginia capital. and he built or had his company construct 40 motorized cars and build a power station. in other words, all the bells and whistles that we would need for an electric powered trolley system. what sprague did, and his great contribution was to figure out out how to mount the electric motor under the car. before, it was a rigid mounting, and streets were rough, and those people that had used that approach discovered that the motors failed or there were constant adjustments necessary. so sprague has a system of supporting springs that are used
6:40 pm
for thetraction motorss. slug so the jarring that occurs as a result of rough streets, no more. also he worked on motor components, making them more useful, using carbon brushes, for example. so in other words, sprague didn't invent the electric streetcar, which is going to morph into the electric interurban. but he certainly solved some of the technical problems. so bless frank sprague. and sprague did well financially. some inventors don't do that well. but sprague was very cautious about patents. and he had friends with legal connections. perhaps he picked this up from thomas edison, who was also a stickler for patent protection. so almost immediately, and i
6:41 pm
pointed this out earlier, we find that city street cars that are electrified become all the rage. so by 1890, a high percentage of communities had converted from animal car to trolley, from steam dummy operations to trolley, from cable car to trolley. so by 1900, you're hard pressed to find an animal car line left in the united states. and in anderson, for example, the electric city, right? you think of that when you enter the corporate limits, correct? it had one of the early electric streetcar systems in the southeast, certainly in our beloved state. now, we always have problems as historians to say that something
6:42 pm
was the first. well, i would argue that the prototype for the interurban can be found in ohio. and ohio was just a great place to build interurbans, because you had the population density. it was a prosperous state, manufacturing as well as agricultural. and communities were not that far apart. so you had villages, you had towns, and you had cities. so the prototype was an electric interurban that was built between newark, locals pronounce it will "nerk," ohio, they know if you're not from around there you pronounce newark to, van granville, ohio. anybody ever been to granville, ohio?
6:43 pm
it has an at least regionally famous university, dennison university, a baptist institution, once upon a time. so here we have the county seat town of "nerk" and then college community which is seven miles away. and the company did not build a private right-of-way. it simply used the side of a country road. but it is incredibly profitable. and certainly the students at dennison, remember, baptist, were delighted to go to newark, were delighted to go to newark, "nerk," because it had the reputation for saloons and brothels. it was kind of a rough town, a railroad town, coal mining center. free at last, free at least. the historian at dennison university had pointed out that the administration was not
6:44 pm
happy. and so there were representatives of the school that went down to the trolley station, the interurban station, to see what these students were like physically when the last car ran at 11:00 p.m. so we're not talking dwi, but it's close and some of the students would be campused as well as expelled. but this is really a rural trolley. it's really an extension of what we might call a streetcar line that goes seven miles out into the interlands but it does connect two cities, and apparently at least two-thirds of its mileage was outside of corporate limit. but certainly one of the first true interurbans, and i would argue the first major interurban, also appeared in ohio. it was called the alphabet route, the a, b, and c railroad,
6:45 pm
for akron, bedford, and cleveland railway, and connected the municipalities in its corporate name. it opened a relatively high speed, partially double tracked line in 1895. that was a bad year because it was during the depths of that nasty depression that was from 1893 to 1897. a local syndicate paid for it. and it was a real money maker. in other words, it went from somewhere, akron, which was growing, a diverse manufacturing center -- it's before the rubber industry took control -- and cleveland, wu cleveland, which was not the mistake on the lake. it was a place where a lot of smart money was being invested, and a lot of smart people were anxious to live and to stay put. and now the craze is on.
6:46 pm
so we're going to start to see interurban madness. and let me just add parenthetically that when we looked at those canals, folks, that the most prosperous ones were built in the best areas, you know, like that new york erie canal from roughly albany out to buffalo. but when we were building a canal between the ohio river and lisbon, ohio, that was not necessarily the best location to have a profitable ditch operation. so it was realized certainly by 1905 or so that maybe in some localities the best routes have already been selected and interurbans built, and maybe we shouldn't build any more in that immediate vicinity. now the big question. why were interurbans popular?
6:47 pm
i think you have a good inkling as a result of looking at those god awful roads where you have that vicious and viscous mud, gumbo, yuck. first of all, interurbans are clean. as one company said, no cinders, no dust, no dirt, no smoke. and when you compare that to the typical steam operated passenger train, you look like you had been down in a coal mine, perhaps, or perhaps too your hat, whether you're a female or male, had pockmarks in it. there were occasions when sparks actually set coaches on fire. not good. now, admittedly, there were a few railroads, the so-called anthracite roads, that burned this hard coal as opposed to
6:48 pm
this high ash, high sulfur local coal that we would find let's say in illinois. and so there was a limited amount of smoke. so railroads like the delaware lackawanna, and western, lehigh valley, the erie and several other carriers, used anthracite. but it was expensive. although in the case of lackawanna, the company owned a number of anthracite mines. so we have a kind of vertical integration, if you will. well, interurbans like to point out that they were clean. i think if you had your good sunday clothes on, you appreciated that. now, the lackawanna in the early part of the century had an advertising campaign that was in some ways remarkably successful. they selected a young woman, mythical woman, a kind of gibson
6:49 pm
girl type, sexy, actually, for the time. her name was phoebe snow. and there were a number of jingles that the company used in advertisements, newspapers, magazines, and public timetables. and the most common one, and i quote, says, phoebe snow about to go upon a trip to buffalo. my gown stays white from morn to night upon the road of anthracite. and miss snow, ms. snow to be politically correct, had a white hat and a white shirtwaist, white skirt, and usually had a white parasol. so she was white. unlike some people in the room that have their school colors all black, we have all orange, right? well, white.
6:50 pm
an employee, a creative employee for the illinois traction system, sometimes called the mckinley lines, thought that phoebe snow would really the company built its own bridge over the mississippi river. it was a money maker and was in some ways considered to be one of the nation's finest in urbans. that's the illinois traction system. here's the poem that we have.
6:51 pm
after a ride of a day and night over the road of anthracite, phoebe snow and her five sisters rubbed and scrubbed until they had blisters. steam roads are out of date, said they. we'll have to travel some other way. tomorrow to springfield we will go, dressed all in white from head to toe. so they boarded a car on the illinois traction system. when phoebe said, i must confess, i've heard of this road, its service fine, it's hard to beat an electric line. the car was clean, the woodwork bright. the tipless porter treated them right. no dust, no dirt, all of which shows there wasn't a speck on the sisters' clothes. they arrived in springfield white and clean, not feeling tired, dirty and mean. said phoebe snow, retiring that night, this beats the road of
6:52 pm
anthracite. also, in urban cars were relatively quiet. a steam locomotive makes a lot of sound, sort of like your stomach after a meal. sometimes before a meal. there's this clanking whatever. but in an interurban car, you just have the hum of the motor and every so often the noise that comes from the air pumps. so it's quiet. so i think we are thinking, interurbans, good news, they're clean. but even more important than that, from the public perspective, was the fact that they were convenient. interurban companies commonly operated on hourly schedules, sometimes every 30 minutes during the day and into the evening.
6:53 pm
perhaps the first car would leave at 5:00 a.m., the last car, let's say, 11:00 p.m. or midnight. on steam railroads, certain companies were very proud of their double daily service, maybe not even on sunday, but at least during the weekend -- or the weekdays, and on saturday. so you've got two chances to go east, two chances to go west or whatever direction. and on these main lines like the new york central, the pennsylvania, the illinois central, whatever, you might only have six or seven trains. now, admittedly, these weren't all locals. some of them were through trains or express trains like the 20th century limited or the broadway limited on the pensee. so, yeah, if you were at a smaller station, you might only have three or four trains from
6:54 pm
which to choose. but just think about this, it's like a c.a.t. bus, there's always one when you want it, correct? so these cars were operating frequently, and they would stop virtually anywhere. maybe not everywhere, but out in the rural areas at shelters that were built at trackside or public road crossings. and it was easy to get on these cars. you would use a hand signal during the day, or a lantern, a lighted match, or even burning newspapers at night. and the motorman would stop and pick you up. here is what the lake shore electric told readers of its public timetables in 1911. and the lake shore electric was
6:55 pm
one of these well-positioned interurban lines that connected cleveland with toledo, a distance of about 100-plus miles. passengers wishing to stop should signal the motorman with arm extended horizontally across the track by day, i guess i gave you the wrong signal, and a light swung across the track by night, at a distance of not less than 1500 feet from approaching cars. i'm not sure i know what 1500 feet is, but whatever. the motorman will answer with two short blasts of the whistle, signifying that he sees and understands you. so there's convenience. we'll see this next time when we look at the interurban era. this is particularly popular with farmers. so in other words, a farmer won't have to make arrangements, perhaps, for some family member to get a part for a piece of
6:56 pm
machinery, he can just go on the hour, let's say, to a trackside shelter or public road nearby, signal a car going to town, go to the hardware store or the implement company, get the part, and come home. it's wonderful. it's not unlike, as we'll see later, taking that automobile whenever you wish. so convenience is certainly there. and a resident of a northern ohio village, seville, said this about a local interurban. quote, shoppers can take advantage of cleveland's sales. farmers can expect their produce, milk, eggs, and the like, to arrive at city markets in good conditions. and everyone can enjoy a show, maybe vaudeville and then a silent picture show. another attractive aspect would be for the traveling salesman,
6:57 pm
the so-called drummers. again, i want to spend more time talking about them on thursday. but interurbans went from the heart of a community to the heart of a community. and when steam railroads were built, oftentimes they were forced to build their station on the outskirts or some distance from center city. if you were a traveling salesperson, you may have to walk to the downtown. and if you had your sample cases, you would have to make arrangements, maybe you would ride with your sample cases. the urban car would likely stop in front of the hotel. in fact many hotels served as railroad interurban stations. there would be somebody that would offload that sample case. and in these hotels you had sample rooms where you had shows
6:58 pm
your wares. so one of the steady sources of traffic for interurban companies would be traveling salesmen. also, cheap. you don't have to be a marxist to have an economic interpretation of human behavior. in other words, i think that's why today can buy it, if they can get it online, the $1 ticket for megabus, if they're lucky, or maybe they go to spirit airlines where everything is extra except using the restroom, although transportation is at a low fare, right? have you ridden on spirit? you have not gotten the spirit? well, it's a memorable way to travel, just like mega bus.
6:59 pm
in fact we'll talk about buses later, although recently in "the new york times"' travel section, they talked about some poor student on a megabus and the bus caught fire outside of milwaukee and the student lost his laptop, his books, his life. well, property life, whatever. so interurbans tended to charge, let's say, two cents a mile, where the steam railroad competitors, if there are competitors, would charge maybe three to five cents a mile. and if you're salesman, for example, you could buy these coupon books so the cost of fares might be a penny, a penny and a half per mile. needless to say, the cost of tickets almost always less. and in a few cases where an
7:00 pm
interurban charged more than a competing steam railroad, we find that traveling salesmen preferred it because they actually saved money and time by going into the heart of a town or city. so they were willing to pay perhaps a small premium. also, and you may never think of this, and it's not all that important, but i think it's kind of interesting, is that interurban cars that we saw are really benign. and by that i mean, what a traveler said in 1903, quote, there are a good many elderly men and women who are still rather afraid of the locomotive compared with an engine and train of coaches. an interurban car is rather an innocent-looking affair. so there, you don't have to be scared. and then we have real estate appreciation. and i would argue, if we wanted
7:01 pm
to construct a statue to the most representative american, maybe it would be a politician, maybe it would be a military leader, i think it would be a real estate promoter, seller, whatever. we've been speculating on real estate since we first stumbled off ships in the 1600s. well, you have an electric line that's clean, that's convenient, that's cheap for passage, right? and wouldn't you want to live alongside or nearby? and this is especially true for agricultural property. here is what an ohio businessman said, quote, real estate along electric lines in northern ohio has nearly doubled in value since interurbans were built. and the first question a prospective buyer of a farm asks, how far is it from an
7:02 pm
electric line? also, speaking of money, the owners, the promoters of these interurbans saw this as an opportunity to increase their wealth. and investors believed that these were good investments for them, perhaps to protect those assets of widows and orphans. that in time would not be the case. so there is this opportunity to make money, whether you're actually the owners or you're buying the stock and the bonds. it's also a good job creator. we know that tens of thousands of americans would be employed by interurbans, not only in operations, but in their offices, in their sales
7:03 pm
departments, so on and so forth. also there would be suppliers. we had this supply industry. now, often these suppliers are producing parts for city trollies. but you found different types of headlights that are needed, for instance, on interurban cars. and then there is this whole story of urban growth, that communities are wanting to have greater control over their hinterlands. and if your community is an interurban hub, you can expect people from villages, farms of course coming into town probably on saturday and spending money. also, if your community, and we are probably talking about small communities, villages, had been missed by a steam railroad, this is the second chance, just as the building of u.s. highways and interstates would be in some
7:04 pm
ways a third chance for communities. we're talking a variety of attractive features. that explains interurban madness. when were they built, and how many miles? we have several boom periods. the first is roughly from the end of the 1890s depression. the technology is being perfected, we have better power supplies, for instance. from 1899 to 1903, there are about 5,000 miles of electric interurbans that will be constructed and opened. then we have this nasty albeit short recession of 1903 to 1904. and it won't be until 1905 that there is another boom. and that goes into 1907, at the time of a more severe wall street disruption.
7:05 pm
the bankers panic of 1907. and there's another 4,000 route miles constructed. and we find in this period from maybe 1908, 1909, to the first world war, really, additional mileage. so the peak comes in 1916, with almost 16,000 route miles. now, that's overshadowed by steam road mileage which is in excess of a quarter million miles. it's interesting, 1916, as you know, historians love dates, that's the peak for interurban mileage. it's the peak for steam railroad mileage, and that's when congress and the president make it possible for the first modern aid to highway building financing program.
7:06 pm
long sentence. so in other words, 1916 is kind of a watershed year, kind of a tipping point, and in some ways it's going to be downhill for interurbans especially and also for steam railroads. now, the average length -- two economists, one from the university of illinois and one from the university of california los angeles, figured out that it's about 45 miles, standard length. so we're not talking long interurbans. in some states they averaged greater length. texas, for example, about 70 miles. you know, everything's bigger in texas, as we know. and texas is going to be a state that has the second largest interurban network west of the mississippi.
7:07 pm
california, more mileage. and iowa is a close third. so just keep in mind, interurbans, unlike steam railroads, are not massive in length. yeah, there are some long ones like the illinois traction system, and i might note too that piedmont northern had 127 route miles. but we do have a numerous paper interurban story. and this in some ways knocks home the point of this kind of madness, this intensity, this excitement, interurbans are the wave of the future. ohio is the heartland. no state had more mileage than ohio. it's close to 3,000 miles.
7:08 pm
indiana is the next state in terms of greatest mileage, about 2,000 miles. now, if you take the county seat town of tiffen, which is located in north central ohio, there were 11 different interurban projects projected to go to or through tiffen. but only one, the tiffen fostoria and eastern, was ever completed. that's not usual. we had these paper railroads, some of them were actually incorporated, and in some cases too there would be some grading, some actual construction. there were a lot of unbuilt projects in texas, in the lonestar state.
7:09 pm
back in the early 1980s, when i perhaps had too much time on my hands, i did an article on unbuilt railroads in the lonestar state. and after a great deal of guessing and a lot of work, i concluded there were about 22,000 miles of interurbans projected in texas. but only about 500 built. and most of the 500 were centered in the greater dallas-ft. worth area, although there was an important high speed railroad constructed between houston and galveston. just think of it, come up with 500 miles, and yet you project more than 20,000 miles. so there were a lot of paper interurbans. now, let's deal with the lunatic fringe. there are some examples of grandiose projects, paper interurbans.
7:10 pm
although the one that i'm selecting this morning, the one that's being highlighted, actually did turn a wheel, although not for many miles. and let's look at the chicago/new york electric airline. i know you're fascinated with the prospects of learning the daylights of this extreme example of interurban madness. it's not to say there weren't a number of grandiose schemes. in 1895, at the time that that alphabet road, the akron, bedford, and cleveland was opening, there was a serious proposal, i guess it was serious, to build a high speed
7:11 pm
electric line between chicago and st. louis. but it went nowhere, probably because the technology was still iffy, although admittedly that a, b, and c route did operate, and operated successfully. so at the dawn, at the very dawn of the interurban era, there were these promoters with hunches, thinking let's have a high speed railroad that will be twice as fast as the chicago and alton, which is the major steam road connector between chicago and st. louis. about the time the chicago/new york electric airline was proposed, it's 1906, 1907, there was an effort to build a long distance interurban known as the minneapolis, kansas city, and
7:12 pm
gulf, between minneapolis, kansas city, down through dallas, to galveston, on the gulf of mexico. so that's long. so let's look at the chicago/new york electric airline. there is a sparkplug. and the sparkplug, the creator, is a man by the name of alexander miller. just think, we're the only people in the world now even remotely considering alexander miller. this is part of his 15 minutes of modest fame. so who was alexander miller? alexander miller was a farm boy from ohio who fell in love with railroads. seems like a sensible thing to do. and he got a job as a brakeman
7:13 pm
for his hometown railroad. and in time he learns that cryptic morse code and becomes a telegrapher for the burlington railroad. he becomes a dispatcher for the burlington. so he's minor railroad official. he also decides his future is not with the burlington. and with some friends, partners, he organizes a bank. at this time it's not that hard to create a bank. and he will be the president of aurora savings and loan. he also is an inventor at heart. and he comes up with an electric signaling system and will be the founder and president of the miller electric signal company. well, he goes out on the road. i guess the bank can operate on its own. and what he does is to spend considerable time in new york
7:14 pm
city trying to interest investors and trying to interest corporate executives in the big apple to buy his system. he doesn't have a lot of success, although back home, the chicago and eastern illinois railroad does buy his signaling for the protection of about 50 miles of its main line. the point is that miller is commuting between new york and chicago, maybe not commuting, but he makes frequent trips. and one day i guess he's just bored. he borders a new york central passenger train in the city and realizes that the first 150 miles or so, essentially in the wrong direction, he's going north to albany along the hudson
7:15 pm
river. you've seen "north by northwest," it's beautiful scenery. but when he's in albany, he's actually further from the windy city than when he left gotham. got it? then the new york central heads west along the old erie canal to buffalo and then through cleveland and eventually to chicago. so i guess it doesn't take a genius to think, maybe there's going to be a shorter route or a better route. and the big competitor to pennsylvania goes from new york down to philadelphia, and then it has to go over the spine of
7:16 pm
the appalachians, and it slows you down. by the time it gets to ohio, it has more or less a straight shot to chicago. so the time of the fastest trains in 1903, 1904, 1905, is about 18 to 19 hours between those two destinations. so light bulbs are going on. i think electricity is an apt analogy here. miller's idea is to build a high speed electric railroad between these two cities. and it's going to be as the crow flies. it's going to be a direct route. it's not going to have much in the way of grades. all grades are going to be less than a half of one percent, which is essentially level. now, you've got to deal with the appalachians. yes, building across indiana and ohio, at least most of ohio, is relatively flat. that will make it possible to have these low grades. but when you get beyond the ohio river, you've got some challenges. but miller and his associates are convinced that what they can do is to have these deep cuts, huge fills, numerous steel trestles like you would find in
7:17 pm
switzerland, and keep the grade at 1% or less. now, it's a straight line. but you're going to miss places like toledo and cleveland and pittsburgh, potentially sources of a lot of passenger revenue. so what does miller suggest? you're going to have these feeder or shuttle trains operating let's say between cleveland and where it slices through the buckeye state. doesn't this sound like a great idea? and we're going to have a powerful locomotive, electric of course. and the cars are not going to look like regular railroad cars. this is a little fuzzy, but here is -- well, you had an instant of -- oh, it's college back. it's thinking.
7:18 pm
electricity is not what it's -- well, whatever. look at this locomotive. it's what we call a steeple jack locomotive. it's called the electric loco. miller is optimistic, we're going to have this locomotive. notice we'll have this conventional steam rolling stock, but it's going fast, and i mean fast. this is really exciting. here's what a writer for the "chicago sunday tribune" in july of 1906.
7:19 pm
i think he was essentially rewriting promotional copy from miller's road. chicago to new york in ten hours, fare $10. new direct line startles the transportation world. route 160 miles shorter than the shortest. time, ten hours, quicker than the quickest. fares $10, cheaper than the cheapest. and this bluster continued, that this fancy yet to be invented locomotive would pull trains for, quote, high passenger speed and for mail and express service. now, the electric airline will turn its first shovel of dirt in the summer of 1906, in northwestern indiana. and there's a great deal of optimism.
7:20 pm
what miller and his associates plan to do is to use a different kind of interurban financing. most interurbans were like steam railroads in that they issued debt bonds, as well as stock equity. but this railroad was going to be owned totally by stockholders. no bonds. so if we don't have any interest payments to deal with, and the economy goes to hell in a hand basket, we're not going to go into bankruptcy. also miller and his associates, sort of like bernie sanders, didn't trust wall street. and it was thought that those evil capitalists won't be manipulating our incredibly in-the-future profitable railroad. it's going to be the people's railroad.
7:21 pm
and they will be the investors, they will call the shots. in fact investors were given priority when the railroad opened for jobs. so you had some shares in the airline, wow, you're going to get one of those great jobs. a typical promotional statement was this: don't sit around and growl at standard oil company when the airline with no bondholders earns 15% on your money. the stock for which you paid $25 a share will be worth $300. so if you have extra money, let's see it, and i can guarantee a wonderful return. and you're a smart investor. and what is fascinating, at least from my perspective, is that there were investor clubs that were organized. first in illinois, and then
7:22 pm
throughout the midwest. chicago was a center, as well as new york and even los angeles and san francisco. so there is this grassroots support for the airline. and within a relatively short period of time, about spring 1907, there were more than $2 million that had been raised that were in a chicago bank. fortunately one that didn't fail during the panic of 1907. so there's a lot of money. and the idea that the backers had was to build in sections. so we would build 100 miles at a time, and we would get the railroad started, and then these fabulous profits would roll in, and then we would build the next hundred miles, and there would be more investors who were
7:23 pm
interested, whatever. so gosh, it looks like a wonderful business proposition. kind of like a perpetual motion machine, if you will. in other words, we're going to build this in sections, and eventually we'll get to new york city. well, some of the railroad would be built. so it's more than just a paper or hot air good-idea project. so in northern western indiana, about 20 miles would be completed. it's going to be double track. at first they thought, well, we'll just use a single track. it was going to have a third rail operation. there was a new third rail scheme that was being introduced. but the first construction actually used that conventional trolley overhead with poles and
7:24 pm
brackets. and several cars were purchased. i love it, one car said new york at one end, chicago at the other, fancy cars. what the company did after it completed 20 miles would be to invite potential or actual investors to come and ride on it. and people were just anxious to buy more stock or buy stock for the first time. then there's the problem of coffee creek. the idea was to keep these grades to a minimum if at all. and at coffee creek, we find sort of the downfall of this project. it's a minor stream outside of a new city called gary, which is the home of a u.s. steel plant, a model city, if you will. and the railroad uses this money
7:25 pm
in the bank to buy a bunch of construction equipment. and here we have a colossal field that's 180 feet wide at the base and two miles long to go over this dinky creek. well, they put in the wooden structures that are needed for the fill, dirt, gravel to be dumped. it's well-done. well, this does it in. they're now experiencing the bank panic of 1907. and yes, they don't have any bonded debt, but stockholders don't appear. and the company more or less decides that it will become a conventional interurban. so it builds a branch line that will go into gary and eventually make connections with some electric trollies, small interurbans that go into chicago
7:26 pm
or at least connect with the chicago commuter system. so they got lucky because of gary. and gary was thought to be the great metropolis of the midwest. but the poor old airline, almost all of it will be abandoned in 1917. so not a long history, needless to say. although that feeder line that was built will be part of the gary street railways until the late 1930s. several historians have looked at the airline, although i don't think they've all done the greatest research. and the argument is, this is a fraud. but it's not a fraud. miller was sincere.
7:27 pm
his investor friends were sincere. they perhaps just had an idea that was beyond anybody's reach at that time, at least in terms of a grass root financial arrangement. yes, if you had big money coming from, let's say, the rockefellers or someone else, yeah, this might have been happened. in fact about the same time, there was a proposal to build a high speed freight line between philadelphia and chicago. and it actually was financed by some major capitalists, although it was no more really than a paper proposition. so here we have the failure of the airline. but i think it's just a wonderful illustration of this interurban madness. when you look at any technology, folks, you can see that there is that excitement at times. we think about the dot-com bust in the 1990s. not every company turned out to be microsoft or ebay or amazon. there were a lot of companies
7:28 pm
that folded relatively quickly, although there were investors who were convinced that, you know, this is the wave of the future. so the interurban industry, as we will see in the next two presentations, certainly in the latter one, was a kind of dot-com proposition. and keep this in mind. make a mental notation. there has not been any other industry in the history of the united states that grew so rapidly and collapsed almost so completely as electric interurbans. and again, if we dealt with counterfactual history, we could say that maybe if the automobile had been invented earlier and we had good roads, we wouldn't even have the interurban era. or the opposite, that the automobile hadn't been invented until the 1930s, let's say, or the 1940s, we would have had many more than 15 to 16,000 route miles of electric
7:29 pm
interurbans. any questions? don't go out and buy interurban stock. this is a useful pointer that knowledge of the past can provide. so time is up. and if there are no questions, you can pick up your tests sometimes after 12:15. some of you will be happy. thank you for good listeners. and i will see you on thursday. american history tv airs on c-span 3 every weekend. our features including lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country to hear lectures by top history professors. american artifacts look at the treasures from museums. reel america revealing the 20th century through archival films and news reels. the civil war where you hear
7:30 pm
about the people who shaped the kifl war. and the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first lady to learn about their politics, policies and legacy. american history tv every weekend on c-span3. this labor day weekend american history tv on c spann 3 has three days of featured programming. saturday night at 8:00 p.m., a professor shares his personal family history and other oral histories about the national farm worker's foundation. >> the movement of farm workers, the people at the bottom of the society was suddenly becoming engaged. but also mobilizing for politicians. we'll talk a little bit about this later. i know some of you mentioned this in your oral history. one of the best friends of the chavez family is the kennedy family, right, starting with john and then robert and their
7:31 pm
children. >> sunday evening at 6, the national security archive at george washington universities for the 50th anniversary of the freedom act. >> all of the sudden he picked up this bright young illinois congressman as a cosponsor. rumsfeld's statement on the floor of the house is a pretty good explanation of why the bill then became a real majority bill. government has gotten so big, it's involved in so many different pieces of our life, commercial life, industrial life, personal lives, medicare passed, social security, so forth, we need the right to get those records out of agencies to be able to uphold our own, stand card of living, own freedom. >> and monday morning at 11:00 eastern, the national park
7:32 pm
service marking its 100 anniversary at arlington house. we spoke with the former director and brandon bice who will oversee a year long restoration of the mansion, slave quarters and grounds. >> we were incredibly fortunate that we were able to taylor or specific needs for all kinds of things for the museum objects, and for the physical fixes and construction that needed to happen. not just to the buildings but to the historic grounds and gardens and we were able to present that to mr. rubenstein and he generously donated the money to make that happen. >> go to for our compete schedule. now data goldstein, awe chr of "the teacher wars, a history of america's most embattled profession" on how to improve education. she served as the closing speaker for a national forum on
7:33 pm
education hosted by the education commission of the states. commission was created in 1965 to help states track policy as well as to provide the latest research and advice to state education policymakers. >> thank you very much. i hope you had a great chance to enjoy some of the concurrent sessions that we just had. and for our closing keynote, i'm really excited to spro deuce our next speaker. dana goldstein is a journalist and an author of the "the new york times" best seller "the teacher wars." she's contributed to slate, the new republic, the marshal project, the atlantic and many other publications. dana is known to write about education, social science, inequalitities, criminal justice, women issues, cities and health.
7:34 pm
she's here to present her research on the history of the teaching profession and how as policymakers there and an opportunity for all of us to help teachers improve their practice. please join me in welcoming dana to the stage. [ applause [ applause ] >> good morning. thank you jeremy for that really kind introduction. i'm really happy to be with ecs. it's an organization whose research i've relied on so much other the years. just to have a place where i can go as a journalist and see what's happening state to state in our complex 50-state system has been so helpful. i was grateful to receive this invitation. and thank you to all of you who are sticking with me here right before the beautiful long weekend to talk about the history of the teaching profession. so i wanted to begin by


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on